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Group debates election procedure

Kaitlynn Riely | Thursday, February 22, 2007

Three days after the Student Senate met in a closed meeting to vote on the inconclusive run-off election for student body president, the Senate discussed changing the Student Union Constitution to ease senators’ concerns about the fairness of the process. “Nobody liked what had to happen over the past weekend,” said Chris Hollon, chair of the Senate oversight committee. “I know a lot of you aren’t happy with what went down.”The primary election for student body president and vice president was held Feb. 12, but no ticket received the 50 percent plus one vote needed to secure victory. Two tickets – Liz Brown with Maris Braun and Danny Smith with Ashley Weiss – continued on to a run-off election Thursday. Again, neither candidate secured a clear majority so, in accordance with the constitution, the issue went to the Senate, where senators voted 15-13 in a closed meeting to elect the Brown-Braun ticket. But a discrepancy in the wording of the constitution caused confusion at the closed meeting Sunday and led to approximately 45 minutes of discussion at the Senate meeting Wednesday. There was confusion because the copy of the Constitution possessed by each senator said, in the section about election results, that senators could vote freely in the closed meeting. This section was mistakenly added to the constitution and was never voted into the document by past years’ Senates, student body vice president and Student Senate chair Bill Andrichik told The Observer Sunday. Senators were informed of the mix-up before Sunday’s vote, and the correct version of the undergraduate student body elections section of the Constitution was distributed to the senators Wednesday. This version said the senators must vote according to the plurality of their constituency – their respective residence hall – unless there is a tie between candidates within the dorm. But several senators said they did not agree with that version of the constitution. Zahm Hall senator Luke Derheimer introduced an amendment to the constitution to allow each senator to freely cast his vote, rather than vote according to his hall’s plurality. Since all amendments to the constitution must go through committee before they can be voted on in the Senate, no vote on the proposal took place, but discussion was allowed. “I didn’t like that we were in there [in the closed meeting] and we were forced to vote one way,” Derheimer said. Siegfried senator Jim Lockwood said he also felt as though the constitution infringed on his ability to vote as he wanted. But other members of the Senate said senators should not have the right to vote freely in the closed meetings, because in many cases, including in this year’s election, one or more of the candidates sit on the Senate. “It comes down to a lot of personal relationships,” said Josh Pasquesi, community relations chair. Lyons Hall senator Mariana Montes said she was against the free vote as well, since it opens up the possibility of a senator befriending members of the Senate to further political agendas – such as runs for student body president.Montes introduced a separate amendment change proposal to the Senate floor. Her version changed the abstention vote to a symbolic option that would not be included in the final tally of the vote, thereby making it easier for a ticket to get a majority and avoid bringing the issue to the Senate, Montes said. Off-campus senator Mark Healy said he supported keeping the choice to abstain as an option in the preliminary election and runoff. “If someone actually takes the time to go online and to vote and to vote for abstain, that is making a statement that they are willing to become involved in the student government process, but they are not content with the options they have,” Healy said. Alumni Hall senator Danny Smith, who ran for president and lost in the closed meeting vote, agreed that abstentions should matter. “If enough of the school is upset with the two candidates, I would like to see if the abstention vote can beat both candidates,” he said. Many senators agreed with the spirit of Montes’ proposed amendment – that in the best case scenario, this decision should not be sent to Student Senate but should be decided in a popular student body election. Andrichik limited discussion of the issue, since no vote would take place at the meeting, but Hollon invited any interested senators to attend a meeting of the Senate oversight committee to further discuss the issue.